There might not be a better time in Washington to picnic than when there's a pink crown of cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. To help you stock your picnic basket, we’ve compiled this list of markets, sandwich shops, bakeries, and gourmet-food stores where you can find lunches that travel well. We'll leave the checkered blanket up to you.
Owned by one of the guys behind Cashion's Eat Place, this old-school grocery stocks wine, charcuterie, cheese, and antipasti. For an already assembled lunch, ask for one of the three signature sandwiches: The AdMo with fennel salami, mortadella, Parma ham, and aged provolone; D's Cubano, a panini-like concoction with pulled pork, spicy mustard, chopped pickles, and cheese; and the pan bagnat, a baguette holding olive-oil-poached tuna mixed with olive tapenade. If you're an Adams Morgan or Mount Pleasant resident, you'll get 10 percent off your entire bill with an ID.
Open Monday through Thursday 11 to 9, Friday 11 to 10, Saturday 10 to 10, Sunday 10 to 6.
If it’s a sandwich you’re after, look no further than this popular downtown DC lunch spot where nearly everything, including the bread, is made fresh each day. It’s hard to go wrong, but we have an affection for the sandwich layered with prosciutto, watercress, and mascarpone on walnut bread and for the Thursday specials: an oyster po’ boy and a cumin-scented Cuban. For dessert, get another sandwich: two chocolate cookies bound by sweet mascarpone.
Open Monday through Friday 7:30 to 3:30.
At chef Robert Wiedmaier’s deli/grocery, there are a host of gourmet indulgences (truffle oil, artisan salts) that are good for stocking up a serious cook's pantry. But to fill your picnic basket, head for the sandwich counter. We suggest the rare roast beef with rich Chimay cheese, or a pile of grilled veggies with goat cheese.
Open Monday through Saturday 11:30 to 8, Sunday 11:30 to 5.
This Del Ray cheese shop carries selections from all over the world, but it specializes in artisan-made wheels from the United States. There are also jams, honeys, charcuterie, and crackers as well as a good selection of wines and microbrews to go. For a splurge, try the rare Ibérico de Bellota Spanish ham for $99 a pound.
Open Tuesday through Friday 11 to 9, Saturday 10 to 9, Sunday 11 to 6.
The simple food and Old World wine list that made Cork one of our favorite wine bars are now available to go at its sister shop across the street. In addition to favorites from the restaurant's menu—chicken-liver pâté among them—there's sandwiches on crusty ciabatta, roasted garlic in oil, egg salad, charcuterie, cheese, and baked goods from the local company Paisley Fig.
Open Sunday and Monday 11 to 7, Tuesday through Saturday 10 to 9.
Cobble together a European-style lunch at this cheese-and-gourmet-food shop, where the biggest challenge is sticking to your budget. The vast array of cheeses can be overwhelming, so here are my—a former employee’s—picks: A wheel of the company’s signature Mt. Tam, a super-creamy cow’s-milk cheese; a slab of nutty Gruyère; a fresh goat cheese from Maryland’s Firefly Farms; and Grayson, a funky choice from Galax, Virginia. Grab a baguette, some Fra’ Mani sopressata, and a bottle of Pinot Noir. All you’ll need is a beret.
Open Monday through Friday 7:30 to 7, Saturday 11 to 7.
The Italian Store
At this specialty market and takeout, monster subs are the thing to get. A small one could feed a hungry appetite, and a large is enough to satisfy two. Try the Capri or the popular Milano, both stuffed with a combination of Italian meats and provolone. This is the place to come if you’re on a budget—a large sub is just $7.99, so even if you add a bag of chocolate-dipped Berger cookies to your picnic basket, the bill for two won’t hit $15.
Open Monday through Friday 10 to 9, Saturday 10 to 8, Sunday 11 to 6.
Le Pain Quotidien (six area locations)
This international cafe/patisserie chain offers delicate triangle sandwiches to go (we like the curried chicken salad with cranberry chutney), dainty salads, and flour-dusted baguettes with praline butter and marmalade. Throw a couple of madeleines, sugared waffles, or pains au chocolat into your basket to finish off the meal.
Hours vary by location.
Marvelous Market (multiple area locations)
Most everyone will find something to like at this catchall market that’s best known for its bakery, which turns out baguettes, pastries, pains au chocolat, and famous chocolate-chip cookies and brownies. Among the sandwiches, we like the chicken salad, flecked with apples, walnuts, and celery. Salads come in varieties such as one with Gorgonzola, plums, walnuts, apples, and raisins.
Hours vary by location.
Flame-grilled chicken is the thing here. It’s available in quarter, half, and full sizes, and you choose from one of four marinades; sensitive palates should stick to the lemon-and-herb dressing, while daring customers can opt for an extra-hot sauce. We find medium to be just right.
Open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday 11:30 to 11.
This Parisian-style bakery is known for both its quiches, such as a mushroom-and-spinach version, and its sinful desserts. For a healthy lunch, try the crudité salad with fennel mayo, beets, and corn, and then treat yourself to a chocolate éclair or a buttery croissant.
Open Tuesday through Friday 8:30 to 6, Saturday 8 to 5:30, Sunday 8 to 4.
Penn Quarter Farmers Market
Thursday afternoons, you can find fresh produce, cheese, bread, and cookies at this small market. Black Rock Orchards is a good bet for fresh fruit.
Open Thursdays 3 to 7 April 1 to December 23, 2010.
Adjacent to the upscale red-sauce restaurant Potenza, this little shop with tiled floors and granite tables looks like it belongs on a cobblestone street in Florence. Pre-wrapped sandwiches—we adore the roast beef one with orange-and-fennel aioli—are ideal for throwing in a picnic basket, while house-made pastries, such as doughnuts and miniature apricot tarts, are an easily packable dessert.
Open Monday through Friday 8 to 8, Saturday 10 to 8, Sunday 10 to 6.
The excellent house-made baguettes at Frenchman Bertrand Houlier's bakery sell out fast, but they're also the base for his roster of simple sandwiches. We like the ones with a swipe of French butter and Brie, ham with butter and cornichons, and a pan bagnat with tuna, olives, and hardboiled egg. Houlier's sweets are good, too, especially the raisin breakfast twirl, lemon tart, and croissants.
Open Monday through Saturday 8 to 5.
How well do fish filets and fried clams hold up in a to-go container? The grilled bluefish and rainbow trout do surprisingly well, while anything fried (sweet-potato fries included) ends up soggy. For $13, a Maine Meal comes with fish, two sides—asparagus and coleslaw are best for takeout—and a sauce, such as the tangy lemon-garlic. Don’t leave without a slice of one of Heather Chittum’s pies: It doesn’t get much more picnic-perfect than fruit pie on a red-and-white checkered blanket.
Open daily 7 AM to 10 PM.
Philly natives and anyone who uses the word “hoagie” will be right at home in these industrial-chic delis. The owners truck in their bread from the Philadelphia bakery Sarcone’s each week, and the fluffy rolls are used to make sandwiches such as the 9th Street Italian, which is stuffed with capicola, Genoa salami, prosciutto, and provolone. The slightly messier Benjamin Franklin Parkway smothers a chicken cutlet with marinara and provolone.
H Street, NE location open Sunday through Thursday 11 to 9, Friday and Saturday 11 AM to 3 AM. Fifth and K streets location open daily 11 to 9.
Teaism (various locations)
The Japanese gave us the cherry blossoms, so it’s only fitting that you’d picnic under the trees with a bento box. The ones from Teaism are not only delicious; they’re also healthy. We’re partial to the box with a sushi roll of tea-cured salmon, miso mayo, and daikon. A side of sweet-potato salad with miso sauce is good, too, and it’d be a shame to leave without a chocolate salty-oat cookie. In fact, we recommend getting two—or three.
Downtown DC location open Monday through Friday 7:30 to 5:30; R Street open Monday through Thursday 8 to 10, Friday 8 to 11, Saturday 9 to 11, Sunday 9 to 10; Eighth Street open Monday through Friday 7:30 to 10, Saturday and Sunday 9:30 to 9.